Everything about the production -- from the direction to the sound editing -- is well executed but the performances from the two leads, each intensely emotional and raw, are the cornerstone.
Watching Hard Candy is an intellectual tennis match as the audience is torn between rooting for the creepy pedophile and the violent teen. Is it exploitation? That's hard to say although the suggestion algorithms on some movie sites put it in the same category as Saw and other "torture porn" horror films. Personally, I would put it in the same category as some of David Mamet's and Neil LaBute's work such as Oleanna and In the Company of Men. Like those films, Hard Candy humanizes people who are normally shown as one-dimensional villains and also forces the audience to consider the repercussions of vigilante actions.